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by Herman Melville
Billy Budd Chapter 27 Summary
After Billy was hung, there was a silence all along the deck. Then a low indistinct murmur began somewhat like a rainstorm moving into a wood. Captain Vere, expecting such clamor, called to the Boatswain to have the men disperse. The Boatswain blew his whistle "shrill as the shriek of the sea hawk" (27.2). Billy's hammock had already been prepared to serve as the canvas in which he would be thrown into the sea. The process takes place formally and his body is slid down a plank into the sea. Again a murmur begins, and this time it mingles with the cries of a number of sea-fowl who notice the commotion surrounding Billy's sea burial. They begin to circle the body. Sailors, being superstitious men, watched the sea-fowl circling the sinking body of Billy Budd and for them it "was big with no prosaic significance" (27.5). An uncertain movement was made, and then a drumbeat called all the men back to their quarters. For men so long trained in the military, calls to duty make them respond almost as if by instinct. The drumbeat comes an hour early than usual, but Vere understands that you might need to modify military forms in order to control men because "forms, measured forms, are everything" (27.6). The religious rites end, and the men neatly disperse to their places. It is no full day, and "the circumambient air in the clearness of its serenity was like smooth white marble in the polished block not yet removed from the marble-dealer's yard" (27.8).
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